Marra Gad ASH'85
In her touching memoir, “The Color of Love: A Story of a Mixed-Race Jewish Girl,” Sacred Heart alumna Marra Gad ASH’85 shares her sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes hilarious, sometimes painful family experiences. On each page, however, Marra is able to convey what she values the very most in life: love.
Marra Gad's life has been anything but ordinary since she was born. Marra's biological white Jewish mother gave her up for adoption with the help of her rabbi; her mother did not disclose the father's name or that he was black. When her adoptive parents traveled to New York to take her home to Chicago, the adoption attorney and rabbi were surprised to see that the newborn was light-skinned brown and clearly mixed-race. While this made no difference to the ecstatic Jewish couple, they realized over the years that certain family members were not as accepting of their beautiful daughter. This reality caused her family enormous pain, felt most acutely by Marra. Her rightful existence in the family was being denied by some because she was not white but rather biracial.
In the book, Marra describes herself as a unicorn because she feels like no matter where she goes, she does not fit in. Her life experience was that of being told that she wasn’t “really” Jewish as she wasn’t white, or she “really” wasn't black or black enough. Instead of being embraced for her uniqueness, Marra struggled to be accepted for who she was.
From an early age, it was clear that Marra was also extraordinarily intelligent. She began her education in the Chicago Public School system at a new elementary school but was considered a “failure” because she had mastered all of the schools’ educational offerings – three years early. CPS refused to advance her to high school. She then spent a disastrous year at a private suburban school, after which her family sought counsel from their rabbi, the late Herman Schaalman, the longtime leader of Emanuel Congregation and renowned for his pioneering interfaith work. Rabbi Schaalman recommended that Marra’s parents send her to Sacred Heart, where she would be intellectually challenged, and receive well-rounded religious instruction.
Marra never felt like she fit in and so her time at Sacred Heart Academy’s High School was short, but it had a strong impact on her. Despite being an “outsider” who asked too many questions about Catholicism (according to some of the nuns), she credits the school with helping her to better understand other religions, which she views as a unique gift to this day.
Fast forward to Marra’s adult life. Now in her 40s, working in entertainment, and living a life of authenticity and happiness, Marra and her family learn that Marra’s great-aunt Nette, who has always been racist and cruel towards Marra, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and there is nobody in the family who can look after her, including Nette’s husband. Acting out of love for her mother and immediate family, Marra volunteers to advocate and care for her great-aunt and husband. As the disease progresses in Nette, she and Marra develop a stunningly close relationship, with the disease “stripping away everything that polluted her heart,” says Marra.
Most people cannot imagine being subjected to a lifetime of prejudice and hate from a family member, and then choose to take care of that person in their time of greatest need. But Marra is not like many people – as she says, she is a unicorn. For every space in her heart in which she wanted to fit in, or endured racism and other types of prejudice, she has filled those spaces with love. Marra believes - as St. Madeleine Sophie Barat believed - that ours is a loving God, and that God put us on this earth to love and be loved.
Marra’s willingness to share her highly personal and emotionally charged relationships with family draws the reader in as a friend and confidant – making it nearly impossible to put the book down. Marra’s positivity, even in difficult situations, is inspiring and uplifting.
Marra's memoir, "The Color of Love: A Story of a Mixed-Race Jewish Girl," is available online and at select Chicagoland bookstores.